UT students witness NASA’s Insight Lander mission from blast off to landing

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“We saw the InSight Lander launch from the coast of California, saw the rocket launch, saw it disappear into the sky and now are actually getting to see it actually land,” said University of Tennessee doctoral candidate, Claire Mondro.

From the coast of California six months ago, to UT’s Strong Hall, this latest NASA Mars Probe is coming full circle for UT students from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences who gathered to watch the first Mars landing since 2012. 

“It would just connect, I mean Mars is our closest neighbor it’s our closest analog, it would just connect everything,” said UT graduate student, Samantha Guizd. 

“The InSight Mission is a really big deal because it’s the first NASA mission that’s specifically formulated to look at the interior of Mars,” explained Mondro. 

With the technology, scientists could detect “marsquakes” for the first time ever – telling us if there’s tectonic activity on the planet and help us understand how and why planets form in general. 

“Students approach this from a completely different perspective,” says Mondro. “They just see really cool space ideas and come up with their own thinking, which is really exciting because that’s what all of this is based on and driving all of this, is the new exciting ideas that people and young students are coming up with.” 

As Guizd was being interviewed about the Insight Lander, the Mars probe separated from the orbiting spacecraft, beginning the infamous ‘seven-minutes of terror’ – where the entirety of the entry descent and landing (EDL) process is all automated. 

“NASA doesn’t have any control over the spacecraft they’re just waiting to hear the final result; it’s a very stressful seven-minutes in the control before because they have to give up control and hope it all goes well,” says Mondro. 

InSight’s two-year mission won’t begin right away. Tt will take two-to-three months for the robotic arm to place the mission instruments on the surface, and before that – InSight still has to unfurl it’s solar panels.

Scientists should be able to confirm whether or not that happens on Monday night. 

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